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Report: York City pre-K students score higher on later exams

Jessica Schladebeck
505-5438/@JessDispatch

York City students who went through the district's pre-K program, on average, have scored higher on standardized exams than those who did not receive the early childhood education.

Pre-K co-teachers Rolanda SanMartin, center, works with students Josiah Angeles, left, and Christian Allen, right, as they build during afternoon work time at Hannah Penn K-8 School in York, Pa. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

Julie Fabie, the pre-K supervisor for York City schools, last week presented the district's school board with a comparison of students who went through the district pre-K program and scored proficient or higher on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment versus those who achieved the same scores but were not enrolled in pre-K.

Since the 2007-08 school year, the district has offered early child care through the state-funded Pre-K Counts program. That year, the school district opened six classrooms, with the goal of one day having as many pre-K classrooms as it did kindergarten classrooms. The district last year hosted 190 students in its early childhood education program, and Fabie told the board it's looking to add a 13th pre-K classroom in the near future, which would bring the district halfway to the goal.

Local advocates for years have been urging state lawmakers to prioritize expanding pre-K access. While legislators have failed to take up the call, Gov. Tom Wolf early this year announced an expansion of state grants that will make available more than 5,000 additional pre-K slots across the state. The York City School District was among the recipients.

“More than two-thirds of eligible preschoolers in Pennsylvania do not have access to publicly-funded pre-kindergarten programs," Wolf said in a news release at the time. "The partial budget I signed in December includes only a quarter of the funding increases I proposed. As budget negotiations continue, reaching the full $50 million proposed increase for the expansion of Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program will remain a priority.”

The numbers: In York City schools, the first wave of young students enrolled in the inaugural year of the early education program are now in seventh grade. The percentage of those students scoring proficient and advanced — since they first started taking the exam in third grade — has been consistently higher than those who were not enrolled in the York City pre-K program, according to Fabie.

Last year as sixth-graders, 8 percent of the former pre-K students earned proficient or better in math as opposed to 7 percent of those who did not enroll in the city's early childhood program. The difference is even greater for the reading portion of the exam — 31 percent of the pre-K students earned proficient or higher versus 21 percent of those who were not in the program.

The trend continues in the younger students who have also graduated from the program, with the only exceptions coming in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 pre-K classes. Students enrolled in pre-K in 2008-09 are currently sixth-graders, and on last year's PSSAs, the same percentage of students — about 8 percent — who graduated from the program scored proficient or higher in math as those who were not in the program.

Students who completed the early education program a year later, currently fifth-graders, in their most recent taking of the PSSAs had a lower percentage of students score proficient or higher on the math section of the exam.

Former pre-K students in every taking of the PSSAs have scored higher on the reading portion of the exam than those who did not receive that early childhood education.

Student retention: Fabie also told the board that of the students who graduated the pre-K program, fewer than half remain within the district in each class year.

Forty percent of the students from the first year remain, 35 percent of the second wave of students, 43 percent of those from the 2009-10 class are still in the district, and 47 percent of the 2010-11 class remain.

Fabie said there are a number of things that could account for the diminishing student population, from families moving to students opting to attend charters. There is also a shift from personalized and individual attention to a more independent teaching model as students get older, she said, a shift which could be difficult for some students.

Board member Michael Breeland said keeping students in the district is something to work on moving forward.

"We hear about pre-K being fun and safe, that we've been creating this environmental niche where students are engaged, having fun and learning about their strengths," he said. "Is that fun in school continuing, though? We have to begin looking to keep education more enticing."

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.